Electronic debit cards will be soon replace paper vouchers for recipients of federal benefits known as the Women, Infant and Child program.
The program is administered in Mason and Robertson counties by the Buffalo Trace District Health Department, and the changes will begin Wednesday, June 15.
Allison Adams, public health director, said the change-over is part of a statewide movement to transition from paper to electronic delivery and will take about three months to complete.
WIC provides pregnant women and children ages birth to 5 years with nutritional foods through participating grocery stores. The benefits are limited to food products such as milk, eggs, whole wheat bread, peanut butter, infant formula and baby foods, cereals, fruits and vegetables, to insure a proper diet during pregnancy and during the first years of a child's life.
Adams and Crystal Deatley, WIC coordinator, said participants in the program will continue to use paper vouchers until they run out, at which time the EWIC debit card will be issued. Because participants have scheduled appointments during the month through Deatley's office to receive the vouchers, the change will occur as participants complete their scheduled appointments.
A benefit of the transition from paper to electronic form is the flexibility the program will now offer when making purchases at the grocery store during the month. Deatley explained each voucher allowed the purchase of different items during the month. For example, one voucher may be for eggs, milk and bread, and another for vegetables and fruits. With the EWIC card, participants will be able to buy only the items they need at that time, which will reduce waste, but still have the purchase power for all food categories during the month.
"They can break it down within the month...they still have to buy within the validation date or they will lose it," said Deatley.
Adams said another benefit of the program is that health department employees administering the program will now see the entire family unit, not just the mother or child at the various appointment dates, because there will be just one card per family instead of multiple vouchers per family.
"Keeping appointments is very important so there is no down time in getting benefits," Adams said.
The card is designed to be reloadable, and participants can stop in the health department during the month to utilize the reader at the site to obtain the card balance, Adams said.
Adams said training has been taking place with health department employees and employees at the grocery stores that participate in the program for the last six months to prepare for the transition.
Deatley said there are 300 to 400 participants in the WIC program administered through Buffalo Trace District Health Department.
WIC is an income-based program, with benefits recertified every three months.
For more information, contact the Mason County Health Department 606-564-9447.